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  • 1 The University of Pecs, Hungary
  • 2 University of Education, Germany
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In most European countries, Roma people are traditionally less successful in education systems than the non-Roma population. Especially, Roma women have traditionally been less involved in schooling compared to men than they suffer from multiple deprivations: First, their different cultural/ethnic traditions often lead to discrimination in school education. Second, a large part of Roma live in poverty. Third, women also have disadvantages through the gender aspect, because the traditional Roma culture defines the place of women in the family and an educational career is not necessary for that. Despite these multiple deprivations, Roma women are increasingly successful in the education system. In modern societies, however, Roma women are present at school, although usually at the lowest, compulsory level. The lack of education is often the reason that they are only partly present in the labor market. Even if they have a job, they often receive the worst positions. Several countries, such as Hungary, also paid particular attention to education policy. With the emergence of resilience, disadvantaged young people started to be involved in education. The model of inclusive school helps them in schooling. The current HERJ issue discusses the situation of female Roma and Gypsy women in some European countries: Croatia, Poland, Norway, England, Germany, and Hungary. First, our aim is to describe their particular needs (possible), improving and impeding factors in educational systems and second to share experiences about developing education concepts, which could support the educational participation of Roma women and – as much as possible – also their success in the education system.

Abstract

In most European countries, Roma people are traditionally less successful in education systems than the non-Roma population. Especially, Roma women have traditionally been less involved in schooling compared to men than they suffer from multiple deprivations: First, their different cultural/ethnic traditions often lead to discrimination in school education. Second, a large part of Roma live in poverty. Third, women also have disadvantages through the gender aspect, because the traditional Roma culture defines the place of women in the family and an educational career is not necessary for that. Despite these multiple deprivations, Roma women are increasingly successful in the education system. In modern societies, however, Roma women are present at school, although usually at the lowest, compulsory level. The lack of education is often the reason that they are only partly present in the labor market. Even if they have a job, they often receive the worst positions. Several countries, such as Hungary, also paid particular attention to education policy. With the emergence of resilience, disadvantaged young people started to be involved in education. The model of inclusive school helps them in schooling. The current HERJ issue discusses the situation of female Roma and Gypsy women in some European countries: Croatia, Poland, Norway, England, Germany, and Hungary. First, our aim is to describe their particular needs (possible), improving and impeding factors in educational systems and second to share experiences about developing education concepts, which could support the educational participation of Roma women and – as much as possible – also their success in the education system.

Introduction

Most of the studies contain topics where it only talks about the Roma population in general. It means that the protagonists are typically men. We have become familiar with this perspective about what we can expect from this minority group – their social situation, their place of residence, their education, their employment, what they can do, and what they can achieve. However, it is observed that more often women are in the background and their role is to serve other family members.

There are two kinds of public images of Roma women: on one hand, they are beautiful people, wearing colorful clothes, and surrounded by smiling, happy children. On the other hand, their image shows dirty, neglected, and ugly old women who are begging or reading cards. Instead of accepting this prejudice, it is would be urgent to examine more closely the real situation of Roma women in Europe (Forray, 2017).

With the modernization of traditional social and economic conditions, the situation of both men and women has changed (Forray, 1994). Circumstances might have been changed between men who are often involved in an identity crisis and women who are forced to take on more responsibilities. In many cases, the livelihood of the family can no longer be guaranteed by men. Family income is often derived from family allowances, child-care compensation provided by women. Thus, the importance of women as breadwinners within the family is increasing (Albert, David, Havasi, & Kocze, 2011). In most Roma families, the traditional role of women dominates even though its significance is slightly modified (Óhidy, 2013, 2018). However, significant changes have already begun beneath the surface.

Roma Women in Selected European Countries

In this issue, we discuss the participation of Roma women in education in selected European countries.

The study of Tibor Cserti-Csapó describes the social situation of Roma women in Hungary in the light of statistics. He gives a picture of the situation of Roma women in Europe using a measuring system that specifically provides information on the status and integration of the same. This measurement system is the Roma Integration Index developed during the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative.

Two factors justify women’s participation in education. One is that in traditional societies women are less educated than men. It is no longer the case in Hungary. The proportion of people with low education is almost the same. Among people with vocational education, there are more men, but among secondary and college graduates, a higher proportion of women can undoubtedly be noticed (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, 2016). These trends are confirmed by microcensus data of 2016 (in relation of these, see also Kozma, 2018).

In 2016, 30% of men and 36% of women only completed elementary education, which is because women of the group are older and it is common to have low-level education among the older people. Baccalaureate is a level of education where the proportion of men continues to be significantly higher than that of women. In 2016, graduation from secondary school was the highest level of education for 31% of men and 35% of women. Until the 1960s, 80%–90% of college graduates were men. In 2001, this ratio was equalized, whereas in 2016 more than half of the graduates (56%) were women.

These trends are also emerging among the Roma population, although their level of education is significantly lower than that of the majority. A Hungarian study analyzing the school career of Roma youth (Hajdu, Kertesi, & Kezdi, 2014) presents a thorough analysis of the fact that compulsory schooling is carried out by Roma students today and is continuing to study somewhere. However, they are lagging in secondary schools and higher education. The study does not examine gender distribution; our experience, however, shows that the proportion of women in higher education is increasing.

We must be aware that late modernization, traditions, and being a minority in the eastern states of Europe have only allowed for Roma an unequal integration. The downfalls of the same emerged during the formation of democracy and capitalism. As a result, Roma women were in a unique situation. It is different from their previous status but it is not comparable to the female roles that are present in the non-Roma society or in the earlier stages of modernization.

The disadvantages of Roma women are that they have a higher proportion of primary education than Roma men. The differences are even more significant in the labor market where we can observe a low proportion of Roma. In half of the countries of the Eastern European region, less than one tenth of Roma women are represented in the labor market. Those who do have a job, however, have a clear income gap compared to men (Bernat & Pathy-Dencso, 2009).

The situation of Roma women in any other European countries does not fundamentally differ from the Hungarian situation (Brüggemann, 2012; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2012). There are slow, cumbersome, but still progressing tendencies. Problems are emerging at a level of individuals or small groups. The fundamental question is how to reconcile the traditional role of women with new roles. A Roma (woman) partner of ours, who has completed a scientific career, is hopeful. Concerning women’s equality, she says, “A change will come, I’m sure. It’s like a slow-flowing stream. Roma women will just as well win equality as women living in other traditional communities around the world” (see the Czech case study). While in some Roma social groups, it is natural to see girls continuing their studies; other groups are far from it.

A short school career of Roma young people is typical for all countries in the Eastern Europe region. We see that in most countries of the region, from the Czech Republic to Albania, a majority of Roma young people stop studying at the age of 18 years. It is more common with Roma students in all countries than with non-Roma students in their area. In 2011, at least 90% of Roma, i.e., 18- to 22-year olds, did not attend school or other training in Albania, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, and Slovakia. The situation is similar in Hungary, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia. In Hungary, 86% of the 18- to 22-year-old Romas and 57% of non-Romas in the same area do not attend school. With a lack of education, their chances for a lasting and quality job are significantly reduced (Bernat, 2014; Ivanov & Kagin, 2014).

One of the most critical demographic features of the Roma population is the much younger age structure compared to society as a whole. In Hungary, the overwhelming majority of Roma young people are now finishing primary school and continuing their studies in some secondary school, but many of them do not get to graduate. It is all the more important as integration, and the emergence of poverty can be achieved in the long run by increasing the level of education and gaining valuable professions in the labor market. The impact of low levels of education can be traced back to the low level of labor market participation, leading to persistent poverty. Roma people are most exposed to poverty in Hungarian society: they are twice or thrice more likely to become poor than non-Roma (Bernat, 2014).

The disadvantage is hardly debatable. However, we have to remark here that the situation is quickly changing. In particular, the accession of the countries of the region to the European Union (EU) and preparations for the same has led to significant government measures. Economic growth and the growth of the education level of the entire population are driving forces that are encouraging the members of the lagging Roma population to make progress. It seems to be a tiny thing, but it is worth highlighting: in European countries, Roma assistants work in Roma schools, as is the case in Hungary and in Germany today. It is a gesture that brings the school closer to Roma families.

However, how to get out of the vicious circle of inactivity and poverty? In recent years, resilience has been a recurring concept of publications on the subject. It explains that the concept accurately reflects the course of life of Roma youth entering higher education. New capabilities like coping and flexibility are required to get from an unfavorable family environment to graduation or university. There is significant literature on the subject (here, we refer only to a frequently cited volume: Waxman, Gray, & Padron, 2003). In Hungary, it initially helps in understanding how young Roma can enter higher education in a relatively high number (cf. Cegledi, 2012; Varga, 2015). Especially in the successful life of girls, we can see the realization of resilience if we want to find an explanation for unexpected successes – the traditional tools of sociology can hardly interpret these. In her article, Andrea Óhidy presents a resilient life cycle of a Hungarian Roma woman, Marianne: Her journey started in a traditional Roma family. She founded her family when her children were born, but she did not give up her dream – she graduated from an evening school. The critical characteristics of the Roma women interviewed are that they want to be Hungarians and Roma simultaneously. They want to become part of the majority society in a way where they do not have to deny their ethnic affiliation. Roma women attributed their school success to internal factors (e.g., individual learning motivation; Óhidy, 2013, 2018). The most important external helpers were family (especially parents), teachers, and some training programs.

Researchers often associate the phenomenon of resilience with inclusion (Varga, 2015). It can be well understood, as resilient students can be successful if they are accepted by the community – be it a school class or a university group. It is not possible to teach but improve inclusivity; there are some psychological teams to do it in Hungary too. The inclusion of groups and schools classes can also be improved. Participants only have to accept that a “stranger” is just like them with similar desires, goals, and efforts. Not a small task but there are many examples that it can be solved. Certainly, it is not always easy. It is precisely the acceptance of resilient students, and we must emphasize its importance that can cause difficulties, as they are not an “average” member of their social group.

Criticism of the excellent idea of an inclusive school can be found in Kari Hagatun’s study of the Roma community in Norway (She raises a question that has also been raised with Hungarian education too.). The Roma women interviewed (all of them are working people) reject education because they disagree with inclusion. They see inclusivity threatening Roma traditions, and this is why their children feel bad at school. Inclusion in the interpretation of the study means practical tasks such as early school start, breakfast together – home afternoon learning. “Doing school” also means that children cannot go on longer trips with their parents because they have to go to school. They see a further threat for girls is forming relationships with boys. Instead of formal education, they would prefer informal education that goes on in the family. EU directives on minority education, including Roma culture, which are accepted in Norway, according to the author’s opinion, are not applied. One crucial point is the teaching of the mother tongue – Romani – which is not happening (this situation is also known in Hungary, although there are ongoing attempts to teach in Romani). The group of Roma mothers sees inclusion as forced assimilation because their own culture and language will not be part of the education system. The school accepts their children but does not give them the opportunity to foster their own culture. If we think of inclusive education in Hungary, we do not perceive the equal rank of the culture of the admitted here. The question is how to find the right balance.

The education of a Roma group living in Croatia has the same problems. Goran Lapat’s analysis is based on statistics and interviews with Roma mothers. Girls are required to complete the 4th grade of elementary school, but only a fraction of them enters to secondary education. According to statistics, only one Roma girl reached the closing year. The cause of the exasperating situation is twofold. One is the social exclusion of the majority society, well known in Hungary. The other reason lies in the interviews – the mistrust of the Roma population and the prejudices of the school and the teachers. We pay little attention to this factor, though it would deserve much more.

The study, written by Agnieszka Świętek and Wiktor Osuch about the situation of Roma women in Poland, not only fills the gaps but also sets an underlying tone that fits perfectly. In the poem chosen as a motto, a young Roma living a modern life spoils the experiences of the older people. The life of the ethnic group has changed a lot. The study focuses on the Roma population living in the Krakow-based Voivodship, a group of Roma in Poland, called Bergitka Roma (Carpathian Romas). In addition, it provides an analytical picture of the total Roma population, their social, educational, and economic situation. The role of the Roma assistant in schools is emphasized. This position is fulfilled by women who are responsible for the care of Roma students, assisting in administrative tasks, keeping in touch with parents, students, and teachers. It is convincing how important this connection is between a Roma family and the school – the Roma assistant is respected in her own community, and her work is recognized by the school staff.

Summary

The traditional image of Roma women was a contradictory mixture of an erotic, attractive young woman, and a scary old witch. Today, however, we think of them as young people attending school and besides they raise their children, they can cope with the challenges of the labor market. However, this is still just a desire. Although more and more study at schools, we also can find women with no education or job, living in poverty in every country. Rarely, it is that some women are able to reach a high level of education while taking care of their children, or becoming a leading position in the civil sphere. We think these women are showing the way forward.

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. (2016). Mikrocenzus 2016 [Microcensus 2016]. Budapest, Hungary: KSH. Retrieved from http://www.ksh.hu/nepszamlalas/reszletes_tablak

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Óhidy, A. (2013). From multiple deprivation to success. Hungarian Educational Research Journal, 3(3), 3340. doi:10.14413/herj.2013.03.04

  • Óhidy, A. (2018). Successful school careers of ten Roma/Gypsy women in Hungary. In O. Endrody-Nagy & A. Fehervari (Eds.), Innováció, kutatás, pedagógusok [Innovation, research, teachers] (pp. 660682). Budapest, Hungary: HERA.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Varga, A. (2015). Az inklúzió szemlélete és gyakorlata [The theory and praxis of inclusion]. Pécs, Hungary: Pécsi Tudományegyetem.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waxman, H. C., Gray, J. P., & Padron, Y. N. (2003). Review of research on educational resilience. Berkeley, CA: Center for Research on Education at UC Berkeley.

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    • Export Citation

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  • Albert, F., David, B., Havasi, E., & Kocze, A. (2011). Az asszony átveszi lassan a kalapot [The woman slowly takes over]. In I. Nagy & T. Pongrácz (Eds.), Szerepváltozások. Jelentés a nők és férfiak helyzetéről 2011 [2011 changing roles: Report on the situation of women and men] (pp. 229241). Budapest, Hungary: TÁRKI – Nemzeti Erőforrás Minisztérium. Retrieved from http://www.tarsadalomkutatas.hu/hir.php?hir=227

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bernat, A. (2014). Leszakadóban: A romák társadalmi helyzete a mai Magyarországon [Falling behind: The social situation of Roma in Hungary]. In T. Kolosi & I. Gy. Tóth (Eds.), Társadalmi riport [Social report] (pp. 246264). Budapest, Hungary: TÁRKI. Retrieved from http://hivatlanul.com/tarsadalmi-riport-2014-tarki/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bernat, A., & Pathy-Dencso, B. (2009). A roma nők helyzete kelet-európai összehasonlításban az ezredforduló után [The situation of Roma women in Eastern Europe after the millennium]. In I. Nagy & T. Pongrácz (Eds.), Szerepváltozások. Jelentés a nők és férfiak helyzetéről 2009 [2009 changing roles: Report on the situation of women and men] (pp. 165176). Budapest, Hungary: TÁRKI – Szociális és Munkaügyi Minisztérium. Retrieved from http://www.tarsadalomkutatas.hu/termek.php?termek=TPUBL-A-885

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brüggemann, C. (2012). Roma education in comparative perspective. Analysis of the UNDP/World Bank/EC Regional Roma Survey. Bratislava, Slovakia: UNDP.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cegledi, T. (2012). Reziliens életutak, avagy a hátrányok ellenére sikeresen kibontakozó iskolai karrier [Resilient courses of lives or a successful carrier in school in spite of handicaps]. Szociológiai Szemle, 22(2), 85110.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. (2012). The situation of Roma in 11 EU member states. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2012/situation-roma-11-eu-member-states-survey-results-glance

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Forray, R. K. (1994). Women in the Hungarian educational system. In M. B. Sutherland & C. Baudoux (Eds.), Femmes et Education: Politiques nationales et variations internationales. Les Cahiers du Labraps (Laboratoire de recherche en administration et politique scolaires) [Women and Education: National Policies and International Variations. Les Cahiers du Labraps (Research Laboratory in School Administration and Politics)] (Vol. 13, pp. 177196). Quebec, Canada: Université Laval.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Forray, R. K. (2017). Resilience and disadvantage in education – A sociological view. Hungarian Educational Research Journal, 7(1), 112120. doi:10.14413/herj.2017.01.09

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hajdu, T., Kertesi, G., & Kezdi, G. (2014). Roma fiatalok a középiskolában [Roma youth in secondary education]. Budapest, Hungary: TARKI. Retrieved from http://real.mtak.hu/17705/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ivanov, A., & Kagin, J. (2014). Roma poverty from a human development perspective. Roma inclusion working papers. Istanbul, Turkey: UNDP.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kozma, T. (2018). The role of learning in political change. Hungarian Educational Research Journal, 8(3), 89100. doi:10.14413/HERJ/8/3/7

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. (2016). Mikrocenzus 2016 [Microcensus 2016]. Budapest, Hungary: KSH. Retrieved from http://www.ksh.hu/nepszamlalas/reszletes_tablak

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Óhidy, A. (2013). From multiple deprivation to success. Hungarian Educational Research Journal, 3(3), 3340. doi:10.14413/herj.2013.03.04

  • Óhidy, A. (2018). Successful school careers of ten Roma/Gypsy women in Hungary. In O. Endrody-Nagy & A. Fehervari (Eds.), Innováció, kutatás, pedagógusok [Innovation, research, teachers] (pp. 660682). Budapest, Hungary: HERA.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Varga, A. (2015). Az inklúzió szemlélete és gyakorlata [The theory and praxis of inclusion]. Pécs, Hungary: Pécsi Tudományegyetem.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waxman, H. C., Gray, J. P., & Padron, Y. N. (2003). Review of research on educational resilience. Berkeley, CA: Center for Research on Education at UC Berkeley.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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